Leo and the Sphinx

Planet Waves by Eric Francis

Photo by Sally Lloyd

ONCE I LIVED down the street from the Great Sphinx for a week. What was most impressive was how unimpressive it was -- at first sight, that is. It's not nearly as large as it seems in photos, or maybe the scale of the desert background creates the sense that it's smaller than it is. Or perhaps all the tourists buzzing around, snapping pictures like lunatics, creates a distraction. It doesn't necessarily whack you on the head with the statement Big Mystery or Great Monument.

To really see the thing, and all the mystery around it, you have to look, and you need to feel, and most important, you need to give it time.

The Sphinx represents many mysteries; for example, nobody really knows how old it is, or who built it. At times it's been estimated that it was constructed as recently as 2000 BCE, though it's now known that there are repairs on the body of the lion that date to the old kingdom, in about 3100 BCE.

Newer geological evidence puts it back at least to 5,000 BCE -- which seems like an underestimate as well. The point is that it's older than anyone really knows for sure. For this reason, its existence represents a kind of unsolvable mystery, as well as offering what may be the oldest archeological relic on the planet.

One clue to its age is that there's quite a bit of water erosion on the Sphinx that's not present on other man-made monuments in the area. This suggests not only that the Sphinx is older than the adjacent pyramids, but also that it dates to a time when the local climate was entirely different.

Much like the Sphinx rises up out of the Egyptian desert, set amongst the foggy ruins of time known as the zodiac is another big cat, which we call Leo. Leo is the sign of the Sun, associated with the human heart and the metal gold. It is THE sign of human vitality and in many respects the source of strength, light and creation. As the sign associated with gold, it is the reference standard for all things valuable.

Leo is one of the most important signs that directly references sex. Leo-styled, sex has a certain curiosity-driven quality, a childish innocence, and a sense of creation, expression and sharing. It's the kind of sex that humans experiment with until ideas about commitment and morals get in the way.

Leo is also the sign of children and one's inner child -- passionate, dramatic, giving and sensitive.

In Greek and Roman mythology, Leo is associated with the story of the Nemean Lion, which was terrorizing the people of Nemes in ancient Greece. It was the first labor of Heracles, assigned to him by Hera (his namesake), to find and kill the lion. This reminds me of the biblical story of Samson, so we have evidence of a cycle of myths in which "the strongest man on Earth," despite his other frailties, proves his vitality by killing the king of beasts.

In the esoteric sense, we have in the taming or killing of the lion, a symbol of mankind mastering himself or his personality. Or, it can represent the taming and gaining control of the sexual nature so that it can be experienced and enjoyed without wreaking havoc on the world.

However, the mythical lion is not always killed by man; the lion is also a symbol of protection. At the Sacred Lake on Delos, lions stand guard over the birthplace of the Sun and the Moon, Apollo and Artemis. You can see that here, with a bit of background.If we look to older sources with similar feelings, we can wind up in ancient Egypt. The astrological signs are home to the most ancient mythological relics in the sky, the landscape within which all the other myths and cycles are set. Their stories have been around longer than the planets, and have been taken over and recast by more cultures. At times, they fade to obscurity and ambiguity.

The ancient Egyptians were a culture of Sun-god worshippers, and they revered lions. So going back much further than Delos (where the Sun was born, and which is guarded by lions) we have associations between lions and the Sun.

Australian fixed star specialist Anne Wright tells us, "The Egyptian king Necepsos, and his philosopher Petosiris, taught that at the Creation the Sun rose here near Denebola in the Lion's tail (the star beta Leonis); and hence Leo was Domicilium Solis, the emblem of fire and heat, and, in astrology, the House of the Sun, governing the human heart."

She continues, "The adoption of this animal's form for a zodiac sign has been attributed to the fact that when the Sun was among its stars in midsummer, the lions of the desert left their accustomed haunts for the banks of the Nile, where they could find relief from the heat in the waters of the inundation; and the Egyptians worshiped the stars of Leo because the rise of their great river, the Nile, was coincident with the Sun's entrance among them."

Throughout the world, numerous cultures, from China to ancient Greece to modern France and Germany, adorn their society with lions, which are always a symbol of the strength and power of the empire. Like the fixed sign it is, Leo seems to represent a not only enduring but somehow eternal symbol of existence, vitality and supremacy.

The signs of the zodiac each represent the inner nature of the following sign, and the Sphinx, with the lion's body and a human head, seems to represent the relationship between Leo and Virgo. Anne Wright tells us, "The great Sphinx is said to have been sculpted with Leo's body and the head of the adjacent Virgo who, in Egypt, was seen as the goddess Isis; although [some] Egyptologists maintain that this head represented one of the early kings, or the god Harmachis."

In Leo, we get the representation of a lion and in Virgo, a woman or goddess.

Alice A. Bailey, in Esoteric Astrology, tells us that Leo represents two great mysteries, one being the mystery of the Sphinx. This is "connected with the relation of Leo and Virgo, and tied up with the secret of the solar Angels. This is not the mystery of the soul and form, but the mystery of the higher and the lower mind and their relation to each other."

In Bailey's system, the Sun is the ruler of Leo on both of her esoteric levels, the only planet to consistently rule one sign through all three spheres. For all the other signs, there is at least one other ruler involved.

Looking to the tarot, we find a symbol where a woman and a lion are depicted in the same card -- Strength, the 8th trump card in some systems (based on the Waite tarot) and the 11th in others (based on older decks such as Marseilles, and preserved by Crowley and most of his successors). The card depicts a woman, whose divinity is indicated by an infinity symbol over her head (overtly in the Waite deck, and covertly in older decks as a hat), spreading the jaws of a lion, which is located at the level of her pelvis.

On the surface level, the card is associated with all the Leonine themes such as vitality, courage, taking care of oneself, and mastering the personality. It is the Leo card.

But if we go to the level of occult symbolism, the image of a woman spreading open the mouth of a lion at the level of her pelvis seems a little like spreading the lips of her vulva. Since it happens that Leo is the sign of the birth of children and children themselves; and often presented in orange (particularly by Crowley, in his Lust card), it is reminiscent of the second chakra, which is the biocomputer at the pelvic level which runs the energy of sex.

The vulva is one source of the divine waters. Ann Wright reminds us that the Egyptians' "reverence for [the Nile's] sacred, fertilizing waters, and for the Lion which was associated with them, is the origin of the many lion-headed fountains, where the water flows from the lion's mouth."

She also comments, "A lion guarded the tunnel through which the Sun god Ra passed at night," a vaginal enough image to be obvious.

Is it possible that Leo represents the feminine aspect of the solar, which one of my readers pointed out is an archetype that is barely recognized by any culture? With the tarot image of spreading the vulva (a posture called anaserma, in Greek, which is the explicit revealing of the sexual nature or body), we have both a key to the goddess, and a depiction of what female sexual and creative self-mastery might look like.

There is a sense of unselfish self-possession, freedom, divine blessing and the complete absence of shame. She is not afraid to be noticed. An enlightened woman is the master of her own most fearsome quality; she herself is not afraid of the yearning sexual beast within. More to the point, she has gradually become a source of strength and creativity for herself, and those around her. These qualities seem to reside with womankind like a great Sphinx, rising up out of the dry desert, offering their nourishing waters, and underestimated by anyone -- if they even notice.

But that's a pussycat for you. They usually see you first.

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